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This week, we’re moving to protection. Before I do, yes, I saw the most recent beta patches. This is what we have to expect and to some degree endure from the beta, continuous patch cycles that can follow hard upon each other. All we can do is wait for release, ultimately, and see where we stand then. The Vengeance changes will have an effect on several abilities including our scaling ones like Shield Barrier, but that doesn’t really change their intended use, which is what this post will be covering.
Protection is the warrior tanking spec. Of the three warrior specs, it’s the most “ready to go” spec in terms of how it feels to play on the beta right now, and I suspect it will launch with patch 5.0.4 feeling pretty good to most warrior tanks. It’s not completely unchanged — far from it, in fact, as rage for protection warriors has been fundamentally altered and new abilities have been introduced — but warrior tanks in Mists of Pandaria will still be charging in combat, still using Heroic Leap to drop a huge burst of threat on certain pulls, still pinballing with Intervene and still slapping bleeds on multiple targets with their AoE. Some of it will even be easier now.
A lot of the stuff that’s changed is under the hood change, stuff that will affect the game fundamentally but not in immediately obvious ways.
What has changed for protection in Mists of Pandaria
As was the case for fury, protection has seen its share of changes.
Looking at that laundry list of changes, you may be feeling daunted right now. Please resist that sensation. Protection is an incredible leveling spec and tanks just fine in the 5-mans I’ve run on the beta. Proper use of Shield Barrier while soloing can allow you to destroy hard elite mobs while barely taking a scratch. Several talents work very well with protection, and overall the class still has a lot of that mobile destroyer feel it’s always had.
I won’t sit here and get into the debate over which tank is best — it’s far from settled yet — but no matter what, warriors are viable tanks for Mists. Things might get hairy for all tanks who attempt to keep running Dragon Soul for the next month and a half, of course, but even that should be doable once we adjust to the new playstyle.
Unwavering Sentinel, the warrior protection mastery, makes Thunder Clap free. TC, by the way, applies the Demoralizing Shout effect, as Demo is gone now. On the upside, with Blood and Thunder now a baseline warrior ability for protection (and arms), you can automatically apply bleeds with Thunder Clap and don’t have to worry about rending a target first. So now, every 6 seconds you can debuff and affix a bleed to everything in range of TC for no rage cost. That’s pretty freaking sweet.
Your rotation is not difficult to master. You’ll use Shield Slam on cooldown, Revenge whenever it lights up, and fill gaps with Devastate hoping to proc Sword and Board and get another Shield Slam. Depending on the kind of damage coming in, you’ll either use Shield Block or Shield Barrier as your mitigation and rage dump. You’ll hit Thunder Clap to keep the Weakened Blows debuff up on single target, but you’ll rely on it much more for AoE tanking to slap Deep Wounds (which has absorbed and replaced Rend) on everything.
There are several talents that give you additional attacks, which we’ll discuss under the talents section. You may open with a charge or Heroic Leap, depending on the situation. I personally prefer Heroic Leap when I can get away with it, but Charge is free rage after all. I can’t imagine using Heroic Strike at all, and you’ll only use Cleave if you’re desperate to lock an AoE pull down and can’t get threat with Thunder Clap, Revenge, and whatever your level 60 talent is. The rage cost on both is prohibitive when Shield Block costs 60 rage and Shield Barrier scales from 20 rage up, absorbing more damage the more rage you have to spend to a maximum of 60.
Statistics for protection in Mists of Pandaria
You’ll gear for survival, of course, but you can’t ignore what we used to call threat statistics, because now they’re useful for generating the rage you need for active mitigation and have therefore become survival stats themselves. And even with Vengeance and 500% threat, you can’t ignore threat as a tank.
The name of the game for protection warriors in Mists of Pandaria is, unsurprisingly, stat balancing. You’re not going to want any one stat at a huge priority, and while parry will probably be your highest avoidance stat, ignoring hit and expertise will cause you to take more damage in the long run. You need rage to use those Shield abilities.
Protection and talent choices in Mists of Pandaria
We covered the talents for fury last week, but protection has different needs.
At level 15, we get the talents Juggernaut, Double Time, and Warbringer. For protection, I’m really torn between Double Time and Warbringer. I like having a second charge available for whenever I need to use it for tanking situations, where nothing may require it or you may suddenly desperately need to do it. But Warbringer has that nice stun, which is fun for tanking as well. This is one I expect to change based on fight needs.
When you get up to level 30, you have three heals to consider. Enraged Regeneration is your “I want another small cooldown” option. It’s very nice used alongside a Shield Block or Barrier, or with Shield Wall when facing a big damage spike, and at 1 minute, it can be used very often. Impending Victory doesn’t impress me as much as a tank because it’s dependent on needing to hit something to use it, but it would be nice for trash or adds during a boss fight like Magmaw. Second Wind is kind of the warrior version of Ardent Defender, and I’m told it’s crazy-good for duels, so it may serve well for tanking as well. I’m still leaning toward ER as a tank.
Last week I called level 45 the loud noises tier. I stand by that assessment. Piercing Howl, as an AoE that slows everything, is nice for add tanking; Disrupting Shout, the AoE interrupt/silence, gives us another tool for keeping bad spells from casting; and Staggering Shout, which I see no real application for tanking. OK, I guess I could Hamstring spam everyone and then hit it, but I’d really rather just hit Piercing and slow everyone or have the AoE interrupt of Disrupting.
Bladestorm, Shockwave and Dragon Roar are our level 60 talents. Now, as a prot warrior, I love Shockwave, and it’s got that 20-second cooldown that makes it the best option for AoE tanking in my opinion, along with that cone stun. But if you feel like you don’t need a 20-second cooldown and want a big snap attack, Dragon Roar hits like a truck and completely ignores armor on a 1-minute cooldown, making it a very strong “I need aggro now” button. And Bladestorm is Bladestorm. You spin around like a crazy ballerina. Now, I love Bladestorm, but I’d choose Dragon Roar over it for tanking. It comes down to what kind of cooldown you want, 20 seconds or a minute.
Level 75 gives us some tanking utility to choose from with Mass Spell Reflection, Safeguardand Vigilance. Quite frankly, this is a really hard tier to make a pick from. But since most boss abilities seem to not be reflectable and Spell Reflection doesn’t stop damage if it doesn’t reflect it, I’ll probably waffle between Safeguard and Vigilance. Now, Safeguard is easily wonderful for tank swap fights, while Vigilance is basically a Hand of Sacrifice ability now. But Vigilance also will give you the ability to spam taunt when you use it. Since I’ll be able to spell reflect for myself anyway, I really think the go-to talents here are Safeguard and Vigilance, and you’ll pick whichever one you like better. Safeguard is more appealing if you want to pick up something where it currently is being tanked, Vigilance if you want to taunt it over to where you are now.
Finally, the big level 90 talents. Out of Avatar, Bloodbath and Storm Bolt, I really like Storm Bolt as a tank. It’s a crazy-nice pulling ability and can even be worked into your rotation every 30 seconds, and because almost all bosses are immune to stun, it’ll do an additional 300% weapon damage to them. That’s a 400% weapon damage strike every 30 seconds. Bloodbath is nice for AoE threat, and Avatar looks cool and helps with rage generation — but in this case, the very short cooldown and massive burst threat of Storm Bolt for boss tanking makes me think I’m going to take it most of the time.